Wednesday, December 6, 2017

the joy of text and todo

In the late 90s there was an online comedy series called "Computer Stew" (Ahead of its time - way before people were putting series on Youtube, or even before there was Youtube)

My favorite episode was a rap tribute to Notepad.exe- but it's the line from the introduction with John Hargraves and Jay on Speakerphone that sticks with me:
"Well Jay, it's getting to be that time of year when everyone is giving out their awards for best software..."
"That's right! Best office suite, best paint program! Best online game!"
"And you know which program would win hands-down in my book..."
"Unfortunately I do sir."
"It's Notepad, that little text editor that comes with Window? I love that thing, man!"
"I know you do. I can't understand it. I think you're insane. Folks, John manages the entire show with little todo-lists inside of NOTEPAD!"
"I love Notepad! It's small, it never crashes... they never add any features to it... in fact I think I feel a song coming on..."

My current favorite equivalent of Notepad.exe is Simplenote - it is cloud based but beautifully minimalist, I run the native app on iOS and MacOS (and can get to a webpage with all my info when on someone else's computer.) I love how it makes the first line of text the defacto title (a trick PalmPilots used) and how it never tries to duplicate the font and color of stuff pasted into it (those are two things that its competitor Evernote gets wrong - plus Simplenote never begs me to upgrade.) Also I periodically get Simplenote to let me download a zipfile, my complete archive that I can backup safely, on my own terms.

There's one limitation though - Simplenote's collection is a list, usually ordered by "last modified" (Though it allows you to "pin" notes to the top - I reserve this for a single "scratch" note that I use to transfer text between my laptop and my phone, great when I want to be wordy in a chat program that I don't have for Mac) But going back to Computer Stew, the line about "little todo-lists", plural, suggests Hargrave may have used Notepad in that style where you have multiple windows of the program running, each always open to its todo list, each nestled on its own certain part of the screen, allowing "muscle memory" to kick and in help you keep track of which list is which.

(Of course now "markdown" brings new options for documents that make sense as text or run through to something with a richer layout palette)

That use of Notepad is a digital version of "Post-It notes stuck 'round the cubicle", and in fact Macs come with a "Stickies" app that has a more skeuomorphic view of the same thing. But virtual-stickies-on-PC-screen aren't portable, so these kind of Todo lists have always been secondary to what I keep in a dedicated checklist app - on PalmPilots back in the day, and now on iPhone for the past decade. Checklists are great (epecially since I can set up daily or weekly or monthly recurring reminders) but they are kind of flat, missing the "muscle memory" of a 2D space.

Padlet is a web-based system that lets you do something like the stickies but in a multiple-machine way, by treating the browser as the overall surface area. The program's focus is collaboration, however, so lacks Todo features such as dated and recurring Todos. And while that view is great on a big screen, it doesn't work as well condensed onto a handheld device.

Once upon a time I grabbed to domain name "" as a placeholder for an app that would combine Padlet's sense of a 2D space with fundamental Todo features. Never got around to it, especially since the audience for it is a bit niche. Currently I use Appigo Todo on my phone, which is pretty solid, but I'd love to find a Todo App that allowed multiple list but with an option of viewing all the contents of all lists at once. (For example, I'd love a separate list for stuff where I'm waiting for someone else, or that needs to be done at home or at a specific store...

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